Tree fall death: Activists say concretisation, reckless pruning by BMC killing Mumbai’s trees
Environmentalists blame concretisation, civic body’s unscientific pruning; citizens claim they don’t respond quickly to complaintsmumbai Updated: Dec 08, 2017 10:18 IST
With the death of Sharda Ghodeswar, 45, after a gulmohar tree fell on her in Chembur on Thursday, citizens and environmentalists are now raising questions over the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s maintenance of trees.
This is the fourth death owing to a tree fall this year. The BMC conducts an audit of trees twice a year.
Environmentalists say the BMC builds or repairs roads and footpaths using concrete or asphalt in a reckless manner, which in turn kills trees. According to them, Thursday’s incident was a disaster waiting to happen.
Stalin D, an activist, said the BMC has been violating an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). “We surveyed 2,400 trees between Colaba and Dahisar, and found more than 70% of them were heavily concretised. Trees in areas of Chembur and Mulund are worst affected. In response to Vanashakti’s petition, NGT mandated the BMC leave 1metre soil around trees, but it has not been done,” he said.
Environmentalist Zoru Bathena said, “Soil needs to breathe to support tree life, but it has no exposure to air and rainwater owing to concretisation. From where will trees get their nutrients?”
Environmentalists claim the civic body’s system to screen and prune trees that could fall is unscientific. “The BMC does not have a scientific method for pruning. It goes by the visual appearance of the tree. Sometimes, branches are heavy on one side of the tree to balance the roots on the other side, but the BMC axes them without understanding this,” said Stalin.
NOT ALERT ENOUGH?
Citizens allege the civic body’s response in case of alerts is flawed. Thursday’s incident could be a case in point. Chembur residents allege they complained to the BMC at 10.30am that the tree was tilting dangerously, but the BMC did not take it seriously. The 40-ft tall tree collapsed at about 11.20am, within an hour after the complaint.
Shivraj Pandit, founder of Chembur Welfare Brigade, a residents’ group, said, “Our group will lodge a police complaint against the BMC for negligence. Had the BMC responded promptly, it would not have collapsed. We will also write to municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta to initiate an inquiry against the garden department for negligence.”
Harshad Kale, assistant commissioner of the M-West ward, said, “Within the past one year, there has been no complaint about this gulmohar tree. The BMC audited trees in Chembur twice this year -- before the monsoon and before the Ganesh festival. We pruned trees which had decayed or weak branches. But this tree was healthy on the surface. Its roots had decayed, and it was uprooted completely on Thursday.”
A team of officials from the garden department inspected the collapsed tree on Thursday. The team concluded that the tree roots had decayed due to excessive moisture (see box).
Stalin refuted BMC’s theory. “That argument is absurd, as gulmohar’s roots spread laterally and grow sideways, up to half the length of the canopy, unlike mango or peepal trees whose roots go deep into the soil. Concretization around the tree would not have allowed the roots to spread laterally.”